Cave Digging Monks

Trip Start Aug 03, 2008
Trip End Aug 18, 2009

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Flag of India  , Maharashtra,
Sunday, October 19, 2008

What a relief to finally have a train ticket where we could get on a train, have some AC, and some sleep before we reach our next destination. And so we reach, Jalagon train station. Bill picked out a Hotel Plaza from Lonely Planet and asked how much to get there. On driver responded 20 and so we got in though there was quite a bit of laughter between him and another driver. 30 seconds later, I realized why, we were in front of the hotel. Bill went in to check the place out before we decided to unload, and he returns, "We're staying here." Fine by me, I hate searching.

I walk in the front door am ushered through the first door to my right, as I walk in, my first reaction is where's the room as it feels like I'm walking through a large common area and the room should be down a hallway. I do a double take to realize, this is the room. Well, room is an understatement, as it's more like an grand lobby with a sitting room and large bathroom off the side. But the white simplistic decorations of the room just gives the feel of a place like Grand Central Station in New York or a large assembly hall. The best part was that it was cheaper than the room we stayed in the night before and many other nights making the room a whopping $18.00 for the night. I definately recommend this hotel. I even wanted to find a way to spend another night there, but that wasn't going to work out with the plans we had made, darn it. The owner kept wanting to make sure I liked the room, and Bill let him know how I wanted to stay longer. Though there were more expensive rooms in the hotel, and I was just curious to see what they looked like, but we never got around to asking.

Bill was also able to get the last train we would need from Pune to Mumbia with the help of the hotel owner as the train station was a quick walk away. We got up bright and early to get the bus to Ajanta. When we got to the bus station, Bill asked which stall to go to and we were told 8. So we waited and a little after 7 a bus pulled in and so we joined the masses and tried to get a spot. A good trick Lonely Planet told us about was putting a book or a bag through the bus window to secure a spot. It actually worked which was so surprising as Indians don't seem to respect much about personal space or people in general but they will respect a marked seat, who knew?  However, when the money collector got to the back of the bus to take our money, he said, "Wrong bus, next one." The next one that was just pulling in as we quickly strapped on all of our stuff and ran for the next one. This bus was packed to the gills, but luckily the tricked worked again and we had a the back corner to fling all of our stuff on.

We made it to the T section where we had to get one more bus to the caves, a quick easy green bus. We had a quick bite to eat which was once again a plain omelet and a chapati which seems to be the only American type of breakfast we can get. And so off to the caves we went. Our first order of business was to get rid of our heavy packs and put them in the cloak room that Lonely Planet said these caves had. As I run to the restroom, Bill meets two other travelers who want to share a tour guide to save on the cost. Sounds good to me so off to the top where the caves begin.

As we get to the entrance, Bill realizes that we were in such a hurry to get rid of our packs and meeting the new travelers, we never purchased tickets. So he ran back down the stairs in the blaring heat. I must add these are the same stairs where you can hire four guys to carry you up and down on a chair supported by two pools. Two guys in the front and two guys in the back. I wondered if tourists did this because they didn't want to walk or simply because it's a touristy thing to do? I dunno...but it looked like a lot of work for the guys carrying them. Bill made it back pretty quickly huffing and puffing not wanting to hold anyone up.

By the time we got in, our counterparts had procured a tour guide and the tour had already started, but we hadn't missed much. I really enjoyed the tour as quite a few of the caves still had painting and our tour guide told us the story behind all the paintings. Though most of them had something to do with a king wanting to escape materialism and the queen trying to find ways to prevent it from happening. Our tour guide took us only through the most impressive caves as many of them were left unfinished.

While the tour and the hows and why were interesting what really made the caves at Ajanta unquie was the location.  The truly impressive sight of these caves was the layout because when you first walk in, you can take in the full cresent moon shape of these caves and see them all at once. We hadn't been to Elora caves yet, so we had nothing to compare just yet, and so this layout was so specular, and even after seeing Elora, it stayed that way.  The caves were layed out in a canyon created by a river in volcanic rock.  The river bent 180 degrees in a dramic horse shoe shape.  Approximately 3/4 of the way up the cliff on the outside of the horse there was a line of cave temples.  These were not natural formations in the rocks, but rather elaborate temples that had been carved out of the canyon walls.  There was a path linking all of them which were located on approximately the same level.

There were 30 caves at this sight and they showed various levels of the monks cave building skill.  The older caves had large plain door ways with arch shaped windows above the doors.  These allowed the light into the caves to let the monks carve the images on the walls.  The most interesting image that I saw was the reclining buddha which showed the Buddhas soul leaving the body while some of his followers rejoiced, while others cried in fear.

The newer temples had much more introcately carved decoration on the outside of the temple and often included a porch of some sort.  These temples were characterisized by the recess in the floor which was filled with water and then used as a mirror to reflect light to allow the inside of the cave temple to be decorated.  There was not nearly the amount of carving on the inside of the temple as the earlier ones.  However, the entire surface, walls, ceiling, pillars, were covered with paintings showing various scenes.  It was quite interesting to get the story behind the paintings.

After the tour, Bill and I slowly made our way up to the viewpoint. The view point was at the peak of the horseshoe on the opposite side of the rivers.  Providing a perfect view of all of the caves and the scenery around the area.  Though at the top, there were bars everywhere making it difficult for us to get a picture of the two of us. Though there were people of course selling stuff and kept talking so we couldn't enjoy the beauty of the view. The guy told me that he was a student and only sold part time as if that was suppose to get me to buy stuff from him. Needless to say, his annoyance chased us back down pretty quickly. Bill tried to let him know this by asking if he was part of the caves or just here making it clear that he was planning on complaining about his presence. But the guy could only respond, "Thank you."

And so off to Aurungabad we went...

Michelle (further detail added by Bill)
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